SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A Chilean air force plane checked on a Chinese ship that caught fire in Antarctica and confirmed Friday that the vessel is still in flames.
The Kai Xin vessel caught fire off the coast of Antarctica on Wednesday and its 97 crew members were rescued by a Norwegian ship. Then it began to drift unmanned, zigzagging dangerously close to sharp glaciers.
After being forced to cancel an earlier flight because of fog, a Chilean air force Twin Otter plane flew Friday over the Bransfield Strait in the Antarctic peninsula.
"The ship continues to burn and is drifting to the southeast sector, some 14 miles from the 'Arturo Prat' naval base," the air force said in a statement. "It is being monitored constantly by several satellite systems of the maritime search and rescue service within Chile's navy."
Capt. Juan Marcelo Villegas, maritime governor for Chile's portion of Antarctica said a Panamanian-flagged Chinese ship, Skyfrost, was traveling toward the Kai Xin to help tow it to harbor before it crashes into the glaciers and causes an oil spill.
"We had to pressure the Skyfrost captain to help out. I guess because all the crew had already been rescued, he felt the burning ship was no longer important," Villegas told The Associated Press. He said authorities pressured Skyfrost to help out "because the Atlantic treaty says if you don't do anything to avoid contamination it will lead to fines."
Villegas said the Skyfrost captain was planning to send a smaller boat soon to handle the towing. A Chilean navy tugboat, Lautaro, was also on its way to help tow the disabled ship, and expected to arrive in the area on Sunday.
The Kai Xin left port in Uruguay. Chilean officials say they don't know how much fuel it's carrying but they have been working to prevent an environmental disaster.
The 104-meter (341-foot) Chinese vessel was built in 1990, according to the website of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
The Kai Xin is operated by Shanghai Kaichuang Marine International Co., a company that specializes in deep-sea fishing, fisheries products and processing. The ship uses pelagic, or midwater trawling for fishing and can sail in loose pack ice.
Shanghai Kaichuang said in a statement posted Thursday that the fire occurred while the ship was fishing and that the company will investigate the cause of the accident and the extent of the damage before releasing more details.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao